Italians, many from the island of Sicily, started coming to New Orleans in the 1850s. And over the next twenty years, the city had the largest Italian immigrant population in the country. These immigrants brought Italian cuisine with them. But in New Orleans, where the holy trinity of onions, celery, and bell pepper rules, Italian food was combined with creole techniques and ingredients.
While New Orleans Italian restaurants serve many classical Italian dishes, you’ll also find local shellfish like oysters and shrimp on every menu. The results may not be strictly traditional, but they are delicious.
Here’s our list of the Top 10 Italian Restaurants in New Orleans:
1) Angeli on Decatur
Affordable, laid-back, and open until the wee hours, Angeli is popular with tourists who need something to eat after some serious French Quarter barhopping, and residents who appreciate the value for money. Try the special focaccia stuffed with spinach, pesto, bacon, and mozzarella. With old tile floors, and movies projected onto the walls, it’s a fun, funky place.
One of the first restaurants to reopen after Katrina, Bacco serves Italian food with a Cajun accent. It’s owned by Ralph Brennan, and Chef Chris Montero uses as many local ingredients as he can find. The menu features lots of seafood, and fish, shrimp, and crab roasted in the wood-burning oven are delicious. The two-course lunch for $15 and the three-course early-bird dinner for $25 are a deal.
3) Cafe Giovanni
A lovely, romantic restaurant with a pretty patio dining room, Café Giovanni showcases chef Duke LoCicero’s Italian-creole cuisine. Expect to find lots of local seafood like oysters which you can order served with five different sauces. Shrimp, crab, and fresh fish might be robed in a mango-lemon sauce. And fried grits cake with shrimp comes with a traditional creole sauce. Don’t be surprised if your waiter breaks into song. And save room for the fabulous chocolate lava cake.
For forty years, Drago’s in Metarie has been bathing oysters in butter and garlic and grilling them over charcoal. Locals and in-the-know visitors can’t get enough. So when they opened a second location in the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, they were an instant hit. The food here isn’t exactly Italian, but there’s a nice selection of pastas and veal cutlet with marinara.
5) Eleven 79
Theoretically, it’s possible not to get a great meal here, but really rare. Located in a cute merchant’s cottage that dates from the early 19th century, Eleven 79 serves traditional Italian favorites like Italian sausage and peppers, pasta Bolognese, and ossobuco. But you’ll also find barbecued shrimp and softshell crab.
6) Irene’s Cuisine
Irene DiPietro has created a wonderful Italian restaurant in the French Quarter. And just about everyone knows it. Expect to wait an hour or so for a table. With lots of old photos on the wall and Chianti bottles aplenty, it looks like it was relocated from New York. It’s the best choice in New Orleans for southern Italian food or a succulent roast chicken redolent of rosemary and garlic. Service is better than at most competitors.
About half an hour from New Orleans in an old clapboard roadhouse in Avondale, Mosca’s doesn’t look like much from the outside. Or inside, for that matter. But no one comes here for the décor – it’s the food that’s been packing them in since 1946. Shrimp and oysters basted in butter, garlic, and herbs and baked in the oven are fantastic, as is the house-made Italian sausage.
8) Pascal’s Manale
Barbecued shrimp is served all over New Orleans, but few places do it better than Pascal’s, which has had since 1913 to perfect the dish. They’re also known for their oysters Bienville and turtle soup. But many of the entrees are Italian classics, including several veal dishes, and pasta with meatballs.
9) Semolina’s Bistro Italia
This restaurant from the owners of Semolina in Metarie serves Italian classics like meatballs and baked mascarpone in marinara that can be hard to find in New Orleans. If you’ve got a yen for chicken parm or lasagna Bolognese, this is the place. But there are also creole-influenced dishes like pasta jambalaya and barbecued chicken pasta.
10) Tommy’s Cuisine
Located in the warehouse district, Tommy’s serves Italian-creole cooking like oysters Tommy with pancetta, Romano cheese, and roasted red pepper, and mussels in marinara. The chef here, Tommy Andrade, was at Irene’s Cuisine and many of the dishes are similar. If you have extra time, stop by the wine bar for a glass of Chianti.
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